The NHL and hockey fans alike have much to be excited for this New Year's Day, which will see the Detroit Red Wings taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2014 Winter Classic. The game, being played at the Big House on the University of Michigan campus, is expected to set a world record for attendance.
With the widespread excitement surrounding the 2014 Winter Classic, the event has posed an issue that has kept NHL executives and law enforcement officials on their feet: counterfeit merchandise sales. The success of and interest surrounding the Winter Classic, which features two teams from the NHL's "Original Six," has led non-NHL entities to want to capitalize upon it. These individuals and companies create counterfeit merchandise based upon the NHL's legally-protected trademarks, and sell that merchandise to fans either through websites or directly at the Winter Classic and events surrounding it.
The NHL expects to seize over $250,000 worth of counterfeit merchandise at the 2014 Winter Classic. During the 2012 Winter Classic, through its membership in the Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports Logos (CAPS), the NHL seized more than 1,100 pieces of counterfeit merchandise at a value of over $250,000.
While it's hard to say in advance how much merchandise we are going to seize, this is going to be the biggest game we've been involved with. We're expecting 100,000 fans to show up, which suggests that there will be a lot of counterfeiters. Given the numbers from the 2012 Winter Classic, we expect to seize a greater amount of merchandise this year.
- NHL Enterprises vice president of legal and business affairs, Tom Prochnow
While the NHL operates an anti-counterfeiting program throughout the year, its focus shifts in the time periods surrounding its large-scale events, including the Winter Classic and Stanley Cup. This focus involves partnering with local and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to engage in efforts to protect fans against counterfeit merchandise sales.
For the 2014 Winter Classic, those efforts began months ago.
We've been working for a few months with law enforcement in Detroit and Ann Arbor to ramp up for it. There are two specific jerseys that were designed for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings to wear during the game. After the jerseys were unveiled earlier in the fall, we started seeing those jerseys turning up on counterfeit websites. Customs in Detroit saw them coming into the country and began seizing packages in October.
While the focus of law enforcement in the months leading up to the Winter Classic is on counterfeit merchandise websites largely based overseas, the interest shifts in the days before the event to counterfeiters on the ground. "In more recent weeks, we have been keeping an eye on the streets, seeing if people are set up at the events leading up to the Winter Classic with counterfeit merchandise," Prochnow noted.
Prochnow says that jerseys, t-shirts and caps make up the bulk of the counterfeit items seized surrounding the Winter Classic. Fans can protect themselves against buying counterfeit merchandise by looking for the NHL hologram sticker or hangtag and a sewn-in label identifying the merchandise as "official" NHL merchandise, questioning prices that seem too good to be true and keeping an eye out for typographical errors and poor design quality on merchandise. Issues the NHL has spotted in merchandise it has seized surrounding the 2014 Winter Classic include the word "the" being misspelled in "The Big House" on jersey patches, poor stitching on jerseys, and paper being left on the backs of patches sewn onto jerseys.
The most important thing to us, is protecting our fans. The fans who get stuck with counterfeit products are not going to be happy and it's going to reflect badly on us, our game and our teams. We want to make sure that fans don't get stuck with something that falls apart after they wear it once or that shrinks three sizes after the put it in the wash.
Counterfeit merchandise presents problems for the NHL, consumers and counterfeiters themselves, who face prosecution and potential imprisonment. Yet, there is a silver lining to the growing issue of counterfeit merchandise being sold surrounding large-scale sporting events. That silver lining is seized merchandise is typically donated to people in need. According to Prochnow, the NHL donates the apparel it seizes to World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization aimed at ending poverty and injustice worldwide.
"World Vision sends the seized merchandise to people around the world who need clothing. Typically, our merchandise is sent to people living in Sub-Saharan Africa," Prochnow noted.